Technical narratives
: analysis, description and representation in the conservation of software-based art

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The term software-based art has emerged from conservation practice over the past decade to describe artworks for which software forms the primary artistic medium. Such works present new challenges for those engaged in the long-term care of collections of modern and contemporary art. They are often technically complex and may employ many inter-related (and sometimes bespoke) components, embedded in a specific technical environment. As a result, software-based artworks are particularly at risk from processes of loss and obsolescence. While progress has been made toward the development of practical strategies for their preservation, how to effectively document them in a conservation context remains poorly understood. 
In this thesis, I describe practice-led research which has sought to address this gap using a constructive research approach. I first develop a conceptual framework through which to better understand the problem space, consisting of two parts: an in-depth examination of the characteristics of software as a medium; and an exploration of the document concept and its meaning in relation to the role of the conservator. Using this conceptual framework to further refine my research aims, I examine three topics in detail, seeking to develop practical solutions for each: the analysis and representation of software structures; the extent to which notions of significance and artwork identity might be formalised as documentation; and how the patterns of change which occur in the life of a software-based artwork might be understood and recorded. 
In addressing each of these aims, I draw on insights gained in the in-depth study of a set of software-based artwork case studies from the Tate collection and the synthesis of existing theory from a number of related domains. The outcomes of the research have direct relevance to conservation practice, not as formal templates, but rather as a set of flexible and reusable principles and methods that might be applied individually or in conjunction to effectively document a diversity of software-based artwork types.
Date of Award1 May 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorMark Hedges (Supervisor) & Pip Laurenson (Supervisor)

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